Gather Around. We Must Call Forth EVIL For the Sake of Our Lives! “Seance” reviewed! (Acorn Media International / Blu-ray)

A practical joke in summoning a spirit sends one girl to die of mysterious circumstances at the isolated and elite all-girls boarding school of Edelvine Academy. At the top of the wait list is Camille Meadows who finds herself in mid-semester adversity with not only her studies but also the deceased girl’s group of browbeating friends as Camille replaces their friend’s now vacant opening. When another friend disappears and another dies in a freak accident, differences and quarrels are put aside before one of them becomes the next victim. The group conducts a seance to call their friend from beyond to discern whose taking them out one-by-one and the spirit’s cryptic response determined one thing evident, a killer, whether supernatural or real, will stop at nothing until every last one of them is dead.

In what feels like an extremely unquantifiable amount of time that has passed since the last high school teen slasher has graced our once beholding subgenre, “You’re Next” and “The Guest” screenwriter Simon Barrett ends up sneaking one into the fold before the grand fourth sequel release in the “Scream” series come mid-January 2022. “Seance” is the first feature length film directed by Barret who pens the supernatural slasher encrusted with snarky teenage melodrama agitated by a mysterious, unknown killer wreaking havoc upon the catfighting girls of Edelvine Academy. The adolescent cutthroat temperaments give way to actual throat cutting macabre in this whodunit thriller lessoned with a mix of the power of friendships and an attenuated lesbian aura presence throughout up until the very affirming finale in an allegorical show representing hiding in plain sight. The snowy and serene Manitoba-shot Canadian film is a production of HanWay Films (“The Guest”), Ingenious Media (“Unhinged”), and the Gothically-inclined Dark Castle Films (“Thirteen Ghosts”) with select producers Adam Wingard, who has a long his filmic history collaborating with Barret, Tomas Deckaj (“The Green Knight”), and Devan Towers (“Day of the Dead” television series).

For High School girls, all the actresses with the exception for Ella-Rae Smith are mid-to-late 20’s with lead actress Suki Waterhouse (“The Bad Batch,” “Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies”) tipping the pendulum nipping at her 30s. However, Waterhouse and the others defy their actual corporal ages portraying teenagers in the throes of adolescent social clique.  Waterhouse plays the cool as a cucumber newcomer Camille to Edelvine Academy, befriending right off the bat with her personal Academy introductory host, a solitary Xanax-popper Helena (Smith).   Immediately, new girl Camille becomes public enemy number one with Edelvine’s most smug impractical prankers led by Alice played by Inanna Sarkis. On paper, Alice might have been the group’s ringleader, but the character doesn’t throw around a lot of power or is admired by followers, albeit Sarkis role permanency as the uptight and sarcastic bully or rad bad gal. Following Alice are ancillary player pieces to the group’s effort as a whole to be a thorn in Camille’ side just for being the unfortunate replacement of their dear dead friend. Between the brainy Bethany (Madison Beaty, “The Clovehitch Killer”) and the more elegant Yvonne (Stephanie Sy, “Tales from the Hood 3”) vie the potential right hands of Alice deduced from the dialogue and screen time hierarchy of their roles but they are definitely more interesting than Alice with a punch of flavor in the personalities, especially in Bethany who is built to be a master-whiz in conjuring up devilish pranks to play on her friends and enemies. Furthermore, there’s also the hint of pizzaz that is shamefully cut short and slidden under the radar with the last two in the coterie with the playgirl subtilties of Lenora (Jade Michael, “Fatal Friend Request”) and the unexplored suggestions of Roselind’s (Djouliet Amara, “Tales from the Hood 3”) sexuality, leaving their arcs unfulfilled. “Seance” cast fills out with “Books of Blood’s” Seamus Patterson in the single speaking male role in the entire film, “Cult of Chucky’s” Marina Stephenson Kerr as Edelvine’s firm-handed headmaster, and Megan Best playing the narrative’s lamented backbone of mysterious tragic circumstances.

Portions of where “Seance” flourishes are within the parameters of the teen slasher, a subgenre that lingers on into severe tedium much like the zombie films of the early 2010 decade. The late 90’s and well into the 2000s saw a slew (pun intended) of killer adolescent atrocities in film. Moviegoers were intrigued by the allusive masked killer that, for most of the time, had a palpable-to-satisfying twist ending after roughly 90 minutes of frantic chases, dooming nudity clauses, merciless kills, and one stupid decision to go back into that ominous house after another. Then, when 2010 came along – poof – teen slashers were now a thing of the past, literally. Attempts were poor renditions of previous successes, rehashes of the once was, and didn’t quite tickle the right places. Slowly and surely, the wheels are turning on a rejuvenation of a new generation and Simon Barrett’s “Seance” serves a prime candidate for admittance. Isolated in the stillness of a snow-covered all girl school sets the intended mood for a campus killer, the girls have a warring dynamic mended by a need to survival commonality, and the what or the who that is slaying them is well kept out of sight with misdirection cues to make audiences think they have it all figured out. Plus, the climatic finale has not one twist, but two in its full of blood and surprise double twist spectacular. “Seance’s” character development is one annoyingly flawed aspect that bends the elbow at the wrong angle at times is how characters wonder off alone having just filled their youthful, spongy minds with knowledge that something or someone malevolent is after them. “One friend is missing. My other friend has mysteriously died in an accident. The Ouija board spells out certain doom and gloom. Yet, I’m going to practice my recital routine alone on a dimlit stage with my noise cancelling headphones on,” says nobody ever. “Seance:” “hold my beer!

“Seance” is more than a teen slasher, it’s Simon Barrett’s genre-bending good time and this Shudder-streaming 93-minute horror from Edelvine Academy is coming to Blu-ray home video courtesy of Acorn Media International come January 17th. The Region B UK release, PAL encoded, BD25 is certified 18 for strong bloody violence and presents “Seance” in a widescreen 2.39:1 aspect ratio. Many of the scenes circulate through repeatedly – the snow-covered school, the drab hallways, the quaint rooms, and the bleak storage room – that don’t offer a ton of vivid aesthetics within a limited range, but quality-wise, there’s a dour, shadowy coating accompanying the coarsely, unpretentious realism. However, the fishbowl lens on certain scenes poorly captured smaller spaces, leaving already thin actresses looking anorexic, and for some reason, the decision to position the actresses shoulder-to-shoulder does antagonize that realism as those, who were mischievous back in the day and sent to the principal’s office, never sat right up against a fellow classmate. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound has favorable qualities with a well diverse mix of ambience, a strong dialogue track, and a Sicker Man aka Tobias Vethake laying down a spectrum from brooding synth string pops, piano, and cello bass that stands out with profound poignancy to a lo-fi hip-hop beat and EDM noise of embroiled sounds. Special features include a commentary with Simon Barrett, a behind-the-scenes with select cast, minor outtakes, deleted scenes, a crude pre-production setup for the VFX decapitation scene, and a behind-the-scenes still gallery. “Seance” isn’t all Ouija boards and flickering candles as there’s more obscurity to the slasher than what meets the eye with its mania-driven motives and orientational undertones making this little-known film worth a look.

Dan Stevens. The New Face of EVIL? Freakin’ Love It! “The Guest” reviewed! (Second Sight Films / BD-R Screener)

Recently hospital discharged combat soldier David Collins visits a fallen brother in arms’ family, The Petersons, to convey their son’s last moments of love for his family.  Taken immediately in by the grieving mother, David stays for a few nights at the Peterson home, quickly befriending the family of four with his military “yes ma’am” charm and good looks.  When a string of accidental and homicide related deaths begin to flare up in what’s typically a quiet rural town, eldest daughter, Anna, suspicions turn to David.  As Anna digs deeper into David’s past, nothing can stop the elite special forces soldier from taking steps to protect his identity and his mission, even if that means turning the Petersons’ hometown into a deadly warzone. 

One part action, one part slasher – Adam Wingard’s “The Guest” is a hot take on the infiltrator horror subgenre.  The “Pop Skull” and “You’re Next” director, who went on to helm the epic clash of the two biggest creatures in all of creature feature history with this year’s “Godzilla vs. Kong,” directed “The Guest” to challenge the slasher narrative with an atypical, slightly campy, American indie thriller with an unanticipated and surprising twist that’s more than just your run-of-the-mill snapped war-traumatized soldier gone shell-shocked rogue.  The script reteams “Dead Birds’” writer Simon Barrett with Wingard for their eighth collaboration that pits all the story’s action into the rural confines of an unnamed small town in America while the actual shooting location takes place in New Mexico.  “The Guest” is a production of the UK based HanWay Films, which also oversaw the production of Wingard’s “You’re Next,” and Snoot Entertainment of the zomedy “Little Monsters” from the producing management team of Keith and Jess Wu Calder.

To put things simply, Dan Stevens is scary good.  The “Downtown Abbey” star plays the titular troublemaker and, now, I will never look at Matthew Crowley the same way again.  Stevens trades out the proper aristocracy of British English with a slight American English Southern draw, a heavily used trope portrayed with U.S. troops in cinema, but Stevens does more than just talk-the-talk.  The Surrey born actor who once played the Beast in Disney’s live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast” plays a different kind of monster that’s akin to a wolf in sheep’s clothing with David, adorning his physically fit character with a clandestine depth in his ambiguous background and sociopathic tendencies that makes him very much a mysterious maniac much in the same fashion as iconic slasher villains.  Trying to stop David’s undermining reign of controlled carnage is Anna Peterson, played by Maika Monroe (“It Follows,” “Independence Day:  Resurgence”).  Ana’s a levelheaded, yet rebellious, teenager adverse to being told what to do to much of her parents chagrin from dating a pot dealer to her objection in David’s stay with them.  Monre puts angsty effort behind Anna Peterson’s eyes, but the character herself is rather flimsy willing to put her trust in an unsponsored secret organization agent, “John Wick” films’ Lance Reddick, and his request to get into his car urgently without hesitation, but has a difficult time swallowing at her own pace her dead brother’s fellow soldier even with the stamp of whole heartily approval from her parents and little brother and photographic evidence of her brother’s relationship with David.  Yet, Barrett’s openly oblivious characters play into the slasher/thriller campiness of accepting everything at face value without ever an inkling of doubt.  Perfect examples of this would be 3/4th of the Peterson family: the mother (Sheila Kelley, “A Passion to Kill”) trust him with handling routine tasks like picking up her son from school or laundry, the father (the great supporting actor Leland Orser, “Alien:  Resurrection,” “The Bone Collector”) trusts him with personal secrets, and even the school outcast brother (Brendan Meyer, “The Color of Space”) desperately believes David is his friend.  Tabatha Shaun, Joel David Moore, Ethan Embry, Chase Williamson, and Steven Brown co-star.

Pulling loads of admiration and inspiration from the “Halloween” franchise, “The Guest” not only rocks as an action thriller but also mimicking a retrograded slasher in a subgenre slapped with a label I like to call the infiltrator subgenre.  David Collins is no mindless, walking and not talking, killing machine like The Shape, but instead gains trust, backdoors problems, and has the quick confident moves to see the job through with hand-to-hand combat and other more visceral merciless methods.  Barrett and Wingard purposefully leave much to the imagination with David’s past, turning what would usually outcome as frustrating ambiguity for an essential character to more of an enigmatic antagonist allure similar to the way we don’t have a clear-cut motivation why Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees shish kabob horny teens without a second thought.  Sure, there are sequels that try to enlighten reasons, such as being pure evil, but abstract is not concrete.  Same with “The Guest” with a control spoon feeding of just enough backstory to wet one’s thirst for more on David’s ruthless sociopathic behavior.  David’s also a very likeable with the impression that his good deeds done in violence speaks to a justice-driven character, but what’s brilliant about David, and enhanced profoundly by Dan Stevens, is that when he does kill someone in cold blood for this first time, the impact is tremendously unreal because it’s unexpected and off brand from the Barrett and Wingard’s buildup of him being a standup and do-what’s-right soldier.

Second Sight Films invites you to be their guest for their limited edition 4K Ultra Hi-Defintionand Blu-ray of Adam Wingard’s “The Guest” that hit retail shelves this month on October 25th.  The stunning makeover of this cult favorite, limited to 5,000 copies, offers a brand new color grading for both formats supervised by Wingard with 4K UHD presented in Dolby Vision HDR.  Since a BDR was provided, commenting on the exact audio and video quality of the release isn’t possible, but rest assured, knowing the care and attention Second Sight Films put into their releases, “The Guest” will surely not overstay it’s welcome in the image and audio department.  The film has runtime at 100 minutes and a UK 15 certification; however, there is much more to this 3-disc release that includes the film’s 80’s inspired soundtrack on a compact disc.  Special features include new Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett commentary plus an archive commentary track from the two filmmakers, a new interview with actor Dan Stevens The Uninvited Guest, a new interview with actress Maika Monroe A Perfect Stranger, a new interview with Wingard and Barett By Invitation Only, a new interview with producers Keith and Jessica Wu Calder Producing the Guest, a new interview with director of photography Robby Baumgartner Light and Fog, a new interview with production designer Tom Hammock Lightning Strikes, a new interview with composer Steve Moore The Sounds of The Guest, and deleted and alternate including an outtake gag with optional director commentary.  With this limited release comes a rigid slipcase with new artwork by Adam Stothard, 160-page booklet with new essays by script to screen storyboards and extracts, behind the scenes photos, Wingard’s soundtrack notes, and new essays about the film, and, lastly, 6 collector’s art cards. In a time when modern horror desperately needs a solid sequel, “The Guest” is a good candidate with it’s captivating villain with so much story still left to tell. Hopefully, Second Sight Films’ irrefutable powerhouse release will ignite step-taking action amongst the rumors.

Grab it fast!  Liminted Edition “The Guest” on 4K UHD and Blu-ray Now at Amazon.com!